Tag Archives: Special Forces

Jew of the Week: Motta Gur

Liberator of Jerusalem, Hero of Israel

Mordechai Gurban (1930-1995) was born in Jerusalem to parents who had both made aliyah in 1913. He joined the Haganah defence force shortly after his bar mitzvah, and went on to its special forces Palmach unit. With the formation of the IDF in 1948 he became a paratrooper, and by this point shortened his last name to “Gur”. After the war, he served in the special forces under the command of Ariel Sharon. In 1955, Gur led Operation Elkayam into Khan Yunis, destroying a key Egyptian military installation, routing their forces, and taking out 72 troops (compared to one Israeli fatality). This led a frightened Egypt to finally sign a ceasefire with Israel, and to stop supporting Palestinian fedayeen terrorists directly. Gur then headed to Paris to study at its prestigious military academy. He returned two years later to take over the helm of the Golani Brigade, transforming it into the IDF’s most illustrious unit. In 1967, Gur led the recapture of Jerusalem (the 55th anniversary of which is this Sunday, Yom Yerushalayim). His radio declaration that Har HaBayit beYadeinu! (“The Temple Mount is in our hands!”) was broadcast to jubilant Jews around the world (see video here). Gur ordered an Israeli flag put up on the Dome of the Rock. When Moshe Dayan saw it through his binoculars, he immediately radioed to take it down, shouting “Do you want to set the Middle East on fire?” Gur believed recapturing Jerusalem’s Old City was his life’s purpose, and even boldly told IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren back in 1961 that he would be the one to liberate it. Gur was promoted to Brigadier General after the war, and took up oversight of Gaza and the Sinai. Two years later, he was promoted to Major General and took over the Northern Front. In 1972, he was posted as military attaché in Washington, and only returned after the Yom Kippur War to ensure such a catastrophe would never happen again. He became Israel’s 10th Chief of Staff, rebuilding the military and reinvigorating it with renewed morale. In 1976, he planned and oversaw Operation Thunderbolt to save hostages in Entebbe. One of his last missions was a successful 1978 operation into Lebanon to wipe out terrorists. After retiring from the military, he first went to study for a year at Harvard, then went into politics and became a Member of Knesset in 1981. In 1984 he became Minister of Health, and in 1992 was appointed Deputy Minister of Defense by Yitzhak Rabin. Initially, he supported Rabin’s peace initiative but soon saw the negotiations went nowhere and believed the Palestinians used the Oslo Accords as a ruse. He came to oppose the peace process and, despite battling cancer, started planning a run for prime minister. Gur suddenly died shortly after at just 65 years old, which gave rise to an unfortunate conspiracy theory: The death was officially ruled a suicide, yet the accompanying note appeared forged, and the gunshot wound could not have been self-inflicted, leading many to believe he was deliberately silenced. (Rabin would be assassinated just a few months later, launching another conspiracy theory.) Whatever the case, Gur was undoubtedly one of the greatest soldiers and military heroes in Israel’s history. He had also published three popular children’s books and three military books. Today, there is an army base named after him, as well as a street and school in Modi’in.

Jerusalem: 4000 Years in 5 Minutes (Video)

Rabbi Sacks: What Jerusalem Means to Me

The Abandoned Crown of David: Reflections on Yom Yerushalayim

Words of the Week

Can you imagine what the reaction would have been in the Muslim world if a photograph of that had been published? I’m proud that we raised the flag, and I’m relieved that we took it down.
Arik Achmon, the IDF soldier who had put up the Israeli flag on the Dome of the Rock

Jew of the Week: Meir Har-Zion

Israel’s Real-Life Rambo

Meir Har-Zion (1934-2014) was born in the new town of Herzliya in 1934. His mother’s side hailed from Sephardic-Turkish heritage, while his father’s side came from Romania and Russia. He spent his early years on a number of different kibbutzim and moshavim. He loved hiking and exploring the Holy Land, together with his younger sister, and the two youths were once arrested by Syrian authorities when they wandered a little too far. It happened again in 1951, and it took negotiations mediated by the UN to secure their release. Two years later, Har-Zion was a co-founder of Unit 101, Israel’s first special forces commando team. While sometimes brutal, the operations of Unit 101 were essential in securing Israel’s borders and maintaining its defenses in the early years. They also made it clear that the new IDF is a force to be reckoned with, and that Israel would respond forcefully if provoked. In 1954, Har-Zion joined the 890th Paratroopers, led by Ariel Sharon. The following year, Har-Zion’s beloved sister and her boyfriend were abducted by Bedouin Arabs, tortured, and murdered. Despite being ordered to restrain himself, Har-Zion vowed revenge. He took three fellow soldiers and infiltrated the Bedouin town, capturing six men, killing five of them, and sending the sixth back to relay what happened. Har-Zion was heavily condemned for his actions, and temporarily imprisoned. Still, David Ben-Gurion described the act as “the kind of ritual revenge the Bedouins understood perfectly.” In one 1956 paratrooper mission, Har-Zion was nearly killed by being shot in the throat and arm. He survived, though forced to retire due to his injuries. He was awarded the Medal of Courage. During the Six-Day War, Har-Zion was called up again and, despite having just one arm, participated in the liberation of Jerusalem. He played a key role, hunting down a Jordanian sniper that was holding up the Israeli advance, and killing him with a grenade. In the Yom Kippur War, Har-Zion volunteered again to battle for the country’s survival, and fought deep in Syrian territory, even managing to save the lives of several soldiers. Har-Zion lived out the rest of his life on a farm that he named after his sister. He married, had four children, and wrote memoirs and political commentary. Moshe Dayan described Har-Zion as “the best soldier ever to emerge in the IDF”.

Words of the Week

It is manifestly right that the Jews should have a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?
– Winston Churchill

Jew of the Week: Meir Dagan

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Dagan (Credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash 90)

Meir Huberman (1945-2016) was born on a train while his parents, Polish-Jewish Holocaust survivors, were fleeing to the Soviet Union. Five years later, they made aliyah to Israel and ultimately settled in Bat Yam, where Meir’s parents opened up a laundromat, and changed the family name to Dagan. Meir went on to study art at Tel Aviv University, and when conscripted to the IDF, joined the elite Paratroopers Brigade (which accepts just 1 in 5 applicants). A year following the completion of his mandatory service, he was called up to serve in the Six-Day War. As an officer, he commanded a paratrooper unit in the Sinai. Following the war, he stayed in the military and was soon tasked with leading a commando unit, Sayeret Rimon, operating undercover in the Palestinian territories. During one daring mission, Dagan tackled and disarmed a terrorist holding a live grenade, a feat that earned him a Medal of Courage. He was called to command a unit once more during the Yom Kippur War, successfully pushing across the Suez Canal. In 1982, the armored unit under his command was among the first to reach Beirut during the Lebanon War. Dagan retired from the military in 1995 with the top rank of Major General. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed him as National Security Adviser, and then Director-General of the Mossad. Unlike former Mossad heads who were weary of doing so, Dagan was praised for his aggressive tactics in assassinating terrorist leaders (most famously Imad Mughniyeh, the terror chief of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad). Dagan essentially tripled Mossad’s activities, and a Knesset member has said that under his watch, the Mossad “has undergone a revolution in terms of organization, intelligence, and operations”. Dagan continued to head Mossad until the end of 2010, when he crossed paths with Netanyahu over plans to strike Iran, which Dagan opposed, saying “Israel should not hasten to attack Iran, doing so only when the sword is upon its neck.” (Instead, Dagan had sent countless cyberattacks to cripple Iran’s nuclear program, together with car bombs to assassinate its engineers.) After stepping down, Dagan became director of Israel’s Port Authority, as well as chairman of Gulliver Energy, an Israeli mining company. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. After chemotherapy failed, he received a liver transplant, but this, too, didn’t remove the cancer completely. Sadly, Dagan passed away last week. He was eulogized by President Rivlin as “one of the greatest of the brave, creative and devout warriors that the Jewish people ever had. His devotion to the State of Israel was absolute.”

Words of the Week

The issue of Iran armed with a nuclear capability is not an Israeli problem; it’s an international problem.
– Meir Dagan

This is a photograph of Meir Dagan’s grandfather right before being murdered by Nazis. The photo hung in Dagan’s office as a constant reminder of his important work.